The role of glutathione in detoxication

Environ Health Perspect. 1983 Mar;49:59-69. doi: 10.1289/ehp.834959.


Glutathione (GSH) is a strong nucleophile which reacts well with soft electrophiles, but poorly with both weak and strong electrophiles. Weak electrophiles have low reactivity with all nucleophiles while strong electrophiles react well with weak nucleophiles including superabundant H(2)O. There are enzymes, the GSH transferases, which catalyze GSH conjugation with all the types of electrophiles described above. In order to deal with the wide variety of potential substrates, a multiplicity of GSH transferases exists-each tissue having its own collection and each enzyme having a different substrate specificity. These enzymes are often very abundant, e.g., in the rat liver cytosol, their concentration is 0.2 mM. THE FOLLOWING SUBSTRATES ARE CONSIDERED IN SOME DETAIL: 1-chloro-2,4-dinitrobenzene, the electrophile derived metabolically from paracetamol N-acetyliminoquinone?), benzo(a)pyrene-4-5-oxide, cholesterol-5alpha,6alpha-oxide, benzo(a)pyrene-7,8-diol-9,10-oxide and the electrophiles derived metabolically from aflatoxin B(1) (the 2,3-oxide?). According to the substrate, optimal enzyme rates vary over seven orders of magnitude from 10(-5) to 10(-12) mole/min/mg. Despite the wide embrace of the GSH transferases, not all metabolically produced electrophiles are substrates. We know of the following examples: N-methylol-4-aminoazobenzene and its 4'-hydroxy derivative (these are soft electrophiles and react well with GSH noncatalytically), N-sulfonyloxy-N-methyl-4-aminoazobenzene, N-sulfonyloxy-N-acetyl-2-aminofluorene (these are strong electrophiles which do not react selectively with GSH) and N-hydroxy-2-aminofluorene which appears to react only slowly with GSH. It is of interest in the present context that all these compounds are derived from either arylamine or arylamide carcinogens. Whether the reaction be enzymic or nonenzymic, conjugation with GSH is a very important means of detoxication accounting in some cases for up to 60% of the biliary metabolites. As seen in the example of aflatoxin B(1), very low enzymic rates observed in vitro are sufficient to account for apparently high rates of biliary excretion of GSH conjugates.GSH transferases have evolved other functions apart from the catalysis of GSH conjugation. GSH transferase B participates in the hepatic uptake of bilirubin and the intracellular distribution of the heme prosthetic group. It also has GSH peroxidase activity which suggests that it might participate in the detoxication of by-products of oxygen utilization including those produced by the action of cytochrome P-450. It is shown that GSH transferase B inhibits lipid peroxidation in vitro.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinogens / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Carcinogens / metabolism*
  • Catalysis
  • Cytosol / enzymology
  • Glutathione / metabolism*
  • Glutathione Transferase / metabolism
  • Inactivation, Metabolic
  • Liver / enzymology
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Rats
  • Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Substrate Specificity


  • Carcinogens
  • Glutathione Transferase
  • Glutathione